Go To Las Vegas to Escape Las Vegas with these creative experiences.
The annual Virtuoso Travel Week Conference in Las Vegas can make for a few opportunities to explore Sin City before and sometimes between the sessions. Ironically, the thousands of international travel advisors and providers converge on Las Vegas, due to the creative theming and architecture of the hotels can, with one sweep of the eye from on high, see Paris, the Pyramids, New York City, Venice, Rome and more.
But we, as travel shepherds, as Pope Francis once suggested, have to smell like sheep. We cannot view travel experiences from 20-stories up. In order to provide authentic coverage and advice we need not to dip in but to dive in, experience, and share. Come with me head-first into some of my Virtuoso Travel Week experiences and maybe you’ll try them yourself.
FlyOver Las Vegas
Hundreds of commercial and private flights glide in and out of the newly re-named Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport each day. But Vegas-goers can now soar, virtually, right off the Strip at the new “FlyOver Las Vegas” attraction.
Thrill-seekers who prefer to fly the friendly skies with their feet close to the ground enter the FlyOver Las Vegas immersive experience through a Las Vegas Strip entrance just north of MGM and across the boulevard from the New York, New York Hotel.
Like everything in Sin City, FlyOver Las Vegas offers a cocktail lounge called the “Lost Cactus” as riders wait for their “flight time” to enjoy a pre-show and then board a high-tech, smooth and gentle simulator that seems to zoom over Iceland or the American West.
It’s fast and fun and will have you, from time to time, clutching your handles and feeling your tummy tickled.
Without giving away any of the presentation tricks that accompany the 52-foot, spherical screen, it’s an enjoyable, foot-dangling, quality experience for all ages similar to Disney’s popular “Soarin’” ride.
Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit
The Shops at Crystals are adjacent to Aria Hotel in City Center and within walking distance from FlyOver Las Vegas just up Las Vegas Boulevard and across the street. Between the Gucci and Prada stores and the Barbie Museum, we dove into The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit created by Massimiliano Siccardi.
In a Las Vegas full of kitschy neon and splashy “style,” the immersive Van Gogh is 500,000 cubic-foot oasis of art animated with presentation pizazz, music, and graphics. Literally and emotionally moving versions of Vincent Van Gogh’s hits are displayed, including Starry Night; Sunflowers; and Long Grass with Butterflies, which he painted in 1890 as a patient on the grounds of a French asylum.
“You see people come out of the exhibit crying. Some are laughing. Everybody you see shares the emotions and feelings Van Gogh was feeling while he was painting,” said Veronica Corona, one of the officials who operates the exhibit and its customary but tastefully creative gift shop. “I have been here a year and I still get emotional. Some people lay down. Some dance. Some fall asleep.”
64 projectors fill the walls and floor of a giant room with animation of a lifetime of Van Gogh paintings set to music.
“Your whole body is immersed during a 35-minute loop,” said Corona, who admitted she was not knowledgeable about art when she began working with the exhibit, but the specter of Van Gogh has drawn her in. She’s seen its effect on others, as well. “Two people have stayed in the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit from our opening until our closing…through all 12 35-minute loops. They were intrigued and said they kept seeing different things in each loop. For them it was different every time.”
Van Gogh, despite expressing himself by painting seemingly happy, bright-colored flowers, was a troubled person.
The Trouble with Elvis
Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, was troubled, too, at the premature end of his life. The summer of 2022 Elvis movie starring Tom Hanks as his scheming manager Colonel Tom Parker depicted plenty of Elvis performing in Las Vegas at what was then called The International Hotel. There were even exterior shots of Elvis, played by Austin Butler, peering out from his top-floor penthouse at the Las Vegas lights.
Because of a restrictive contract that gave his manager casino credit, Presley’s career was, essentially, imprisoned at the hotel now known as The Westgate. I visited the Westgate, just off the strip, where I was greeted, in the front lobby, by a fancifully dressed Jose Romero, who goes by the name “Mr. Westgate.”
He was more than happy to show me around and due to the movie’s popularity and renewed interest in the hotel, is developing an in-depth Elvis tour.
“The tour will show Elvis’ 30th floor suite and the International Showroom where he performed 837 times – two shows a night – over six years,” Romero told me as we stood outside a door labeled Elvis Dressing Room. “He changed in here two or three times a night.”
We strolled the bright, old-fashioned, off-strip property as Romero told me the Elvis tour will end by introducing one of Elvis’ bodyguards who will be happy to answer questions. We then took a look at the life-sized Elvis statue the hotel put in one year after his 1977 passing.
“People still love Elvis. They bring flowers and decorations for the statue. No one has ever replaced him,” said “Mr. Westgate.”
The Palms Gets Its Day in the Sun Again
Elvis’ suite at The Westgate is not, however, garish in red and gold as it was back in the day. It’s now larger and luxurious. Elvis would have loved to stay – or live – in one of the massive, themed, experiential suites I visited at The Palms Casino Hotel…on the other side of the Strip.
The Hardwood Suite, for instance, is built around a two-story, private basketball court (from the three-point line); full locker room; pool table and more.
Two bowling lanes with automatic scoring machine; closet of bowling shoes; and a variety of multi-colored balls highlight The Palms 4,240-square-foot Kingpin Suite.
There are others, too, including beauty-salon-themed blush suites and a screening room suite.
Elvis would not find a “peanut butter and ‘nana sandwich” in The Palms Scotch 80 Prime classic steakhouse, but super chef Marty Lopez’s Bjork Oscietra Caviar and Seafood tower openers precede long bone marrow and Mishima 5-star Wagyu New York Strip accented, if you choose, by lobster-fried rice.
And Ghostbar is back – the spirited celebrity sky bar has been resurrected!